The First Presbyterian Church of Dexter
Text: Matthew 2:1-12
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’” Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
Christmas has come and gone… It was fun to wish people a merry Christmas even though December 25th had come and gone. But Christmas actually lasts for twelve days until we reach the day of Epiphany, the day that the wise men came to visit Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. If it were still Christmas the wise men would have missed the party… The angels had already sung their songs, and the shepherds had brought their merriment to the lowly stable that night in Bethlehem. You might think that the wise men were the relatives or friends from some Christmas comedy who were late the party and decided to cause a ruckus…
To be fair to the wise men they had a long journey… We don’t know where they were from except that they were from the “East.” And we actually don’t know how many wise men there were at the time they arrived to the place where Jesus was… Traditionally we think there were three wise men, but some Orthodox traditions say that there were twelve or even more. All the Bible tells us is that the wise men who came to visit Jesus offered three gifts of frankincense, gold, and myrrh. And this is where we usually associate the three gifts with there being three wise men, but I’m sure that the concept of a “shared gift” was something that existed back during the time of Jesus.
The arrival of the wise men, regardless of whether or not there were three, reminds us that the season of gift giving is never over. We might have given gifts to each other, and we might have even brought gifts to offer the little baby Jesus on the night that the angels and the shepherds arrived… But the wise men tell us that there is never an inopportune time to offer what we have to Jesus… And maybe it’s appropriate then that Epiphany falls in the new year. This reminder of offering a gift to someone else is something that helps to jump start our new year, to refresh our souls, to point us in the direction of the shining star that guided the wise men all those years ago. It is a reminder that the sacred act of offering what we have to Jesus, who is Lord over Heaven and earth, so that we might honor a God who took on the form of a human being in order to know what it was like to walk in our footsteps.
But the journey of the wise men, was not all happiness and joy… We don’t know where the wise men had come from, but I imagine that they had some hiccups along the way. Maybe one of them got lost or separated, maybe they were held up by bandits who tried to loot them, or maybe they questioned whether or not the journey they were undertaking was worth it. Yet none of these hypothetical threats could have held a candle to what they encountered in Jerusalem. For it was in Jerusalem that they would encounter the greatest threat of all, which was found in the character of King Herod. When Herod learned about the purpose of their journey he called the wise men together in order convince them that he too wanted to visit the Christ child in order that he might offer gifts as well. Of course we know the true intent of Herod’s desire to see Jesus, but a plot to corrupt the wise men reflects the bumps in our own journey of life and faith as well.
There are many powers out there that try to reign over us with force, with not only physical force, but with spiritual and emotional force as well as an attempt to prevent us from offering what we have to Christ who came to us in order to be Emmanuel, God with us. There are voices that try to lord over us by making us believe that the worst case scenario is the only scenario… There are voices that try to sweet talk us into hiding our faith for our own benefit… There are voices that tell us that we are too small… That we don’t have enough resources to carry out the mission that Christ calls us to do… Time and time again the Herod’s of the world try and prevent us from offering what we have to Jesus, or try to get us to turn our back on the hope that is found in Christ. But the hope that Christ has to offer us, the grace that Christ has to offer us, is much brighter and stronger than the darkness that tries to overcome it.
And this is the part that really scared King Herod, and is what continues to scare cares the forces that try to control our lives today. It was a fear of God that King Herod tried to plot against the divine plan of God, but ultimately failed due to his short-sightedness and ignorance. King Herod was afraid of losing his power… He was afraid of losing what he had built for himself in the material world… God isn’t concerned about the status of human kings or kingdoms, but is concerned about whether the gift of salvation that is offered to all is being done in a way that is faithful and uninhibited by our desires. Yet it is those desires and fears that sometimes manage to grab a hold of us and keep us from doing the work that God calls us to do. In those moments how might we continue to offer the gifts that we have to God?
The beautiful part of this passage, and the part that I believe gives us hope, is that we aren’t told who gave what to the Christ Child… I made a joke earlier about the wise men offering a shared gift, but maybe that is what the Gospel writer intended. It didn’t matter who brought what gift, all that we know is each gift was valuable and together they were offered to the baby Jesus. Together they offered homage, together they offered their respect, and together they offered their praise to the one who they believed to be the Messiah, the one who would reign as the King of the Jews and the entire world. So what gift do we bring the Christ Child? We may not offer gifts as lavish or expensive as the ones they brought to Jesus, but what is it that we have to offer the one who would eventually die for the sins of the world? Even if it doesn’t seem like much, we all have something to offer, and together our corporate worship and praise bears a living testimony to the God who took on human flesh.
As we begin this new year how will find ways to bring what we have to Christ? Regardless of whether offer our time or our talents, God will find a way to use what we offer to further the Kingdom of God here on earth. All we need to do is come as we are…. All we need to do is come with an open heart and an open mind to explore what God is calling us to do. We may trip along the way or we may get lost, but we will find a way to come back with God’s help, in order to continue our work in proclaiming the good news of salvation to all people. And when we think that what we are doing is “small” or “insignificant” God is there reminding us that the greatest gift of all, the hope of the whole world, came down to earth as a lowly infant. If we are to truly believe that Christ is Emmanuel, God with us, then let us live lives that are truly reflective of God’s presence with us… So that whether we are here in Dexter, Watertown, or Jefferson County, people will be able to see that the love of Christ is what has complete lordship over our hearts and now the powers of sin and death that Herod tries to tempt us with.
And in the moments when the darkness of Herod’s diabolical power feels as though it is going to overwhelm us God is there… God is there… God was there for the wise men… God sent the Holy Spirit to them to warn them of Herod’s treachery, and as a result the wise men went back to their home countries by a different road. And God is there for us and continues to send the Holy Spirit to be the shining star that leads us to where we need to go. However, this journey to Bethlehem or this this continuing journey of offering what we have to Christ isn’t done in solitude. We have one another to rely on, to turn to when we feel as though we are heading in the wrong direction, because the Spirit of God dwells in each and every one of us… It is what makes it so that when I look you and you look at me we can see the beauty and majesty of a God who walked in our footsteps
As we prepare ourselves to partake of the Lord’s Supper, we remember the love and grace that was offered to all human beings in all times and in all places. So how will we respond to this great gift we have been given? So what will you offer to God today? What will you offer to God tomorrow? What will you offer to God for the rest of the year? Don’t be afraid to start off small… But don’t let the things of this world keep you from offering anything at all. We are all in this together and we all have different things to offer the Christ child. So let us start 2018 off with a renewed sense of who we are. Let us start 2018 with an open heart and mind that makes room for the Spirit of God to be at work in us. And if we do so, maybe we will be surprised at the results.